Series from producer Simon Fuller takes 'unique and revolutionary' approach to telling stories of lions, elephants, hyenas and more
Producer Simon Fuller is renowned for creating the reality competition mega-hit American Idol, but he's venturing far from that terrain for his latest show, all the way to the Serengeti Plain.
His six-part documentary nature series Serengeti, directed by John Downer and narrated by Lupita Nyong'o, debuts on Discovery Sunday, August 4. It stars animals who make their home on the plain, from big cats to even bigger elephants.
"Serengeti is born out of my love of animals, all of our love of animals on this production," Fuller noted at a special screening of the first episode of the series Tuesday night in Beverly Hills. "I need to tell their stories in a way that I don't think has really been heard before."
We're traveling with the animals. We're at their level, inside their world.
"I came up with this idea for Serengeti to tell stories about these magnificent animals in a way that we as humans who are sitting on our sofa on Sunday night suddenly think, 'Wow, I can relate to this,'" Fuller added. "'That's my dad, that's my sister.' I think this show will hopefully bring that kind of emotion."
Downer deployed multiple film crews to document the lives of Serengeti's central characters - Kikay the cheetah, Nalla the elephant, Bakari the baboon, Zalika the hyena, Shani the zebra, Kali the lioness and more. Kali, for instance, struggles to provide for her four cubs after being expelled from her pride.
"We're traveling with the animals. We're at their level, inside their world," Downer told the audience at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. "As we got closer and closer to these animals... you realize they are incredible emotional beings, they have personalities... not everything they do is instinctive. Most of it is learnt and they learn through experience."
Nancy Daniels, chief brand officer of Discovery and Factual, called Fuller and Downer's series a "genius collaboration [that] has created something that is truly unique and revolutionary... What has emerged are stories that we can all connect to and relate with. They're stories of parenthood, family, of love, of loss and of survival."
"What [Simon] came up with was a fresh look at natural history and it coincided with my own journey in terms of the way I film animals and what I find important about animals," Downer observed. "There was a chance to do something very, very different that brings out that uniqueness of nature - or rather not uniqueness of nature, because I think when you see the [series] you realize these animals are so close to us."
The screening at the Wallis included a live orchestra playing musical accompaniment, along with vocal solos from singers Lola Lennox and Joshua Ledet. Below are photos from the event.
Below, singer Joshua Ledet performs "Wild Hearts" as part of the screening of Discovery's Serengeti.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.